FAA to Approve Drone Flights BVLOS at Test Site

The FAA is expected to approve drone flights beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota. The test site will become the first in the United States to allow drones to fly BVLOS without a chase plane. The approval applies to larger drones, but it could trickle down to smaller drones for lower-altitude applications.

Updated on December 28, 2016 The FAA has approved a certificate of authorization (COA) for the Northern Plains UAS Test Site to oversee unmanned aircraft operations that go beyond the line of sight of the operator.

It appears the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is ready to reconsider drone flights beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS).

According to UAS Magazine, the FAA is expected to this week approve BVLOS flights at the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in North Dakota.

The test site will become the first in the United States to allow drones to fly BVLOS without a chase plane.

U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D broke the news while speaking at roundtable at the new Northrop Grumman facility located at the Grand Sky UAS business and aviation park about how the state and FAA can work together on BVLOS operations. The Northern Plains UAS Test Site, the report says, has been trying for more than a year to secure approval for BVLOS operations.

“Right now the concept of operations that we have worked with the FAA on is for larger UAS, ideally being able to fly above 10,000 feet,” Nick Flom, director of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site, tells Robotics Trends. “With that said, we are hoping to collect data to determine if our concept will also work for lower altitude operations as well. Right now though, we would not be able to use small UAS.”

Those smaller drones could be drones that are used for drone delivery, for example. The Part 107 small commercial drones rules that went into effect in August 2016 banned BVLOS flights and essentially grounded drone delivery in the US. Part 107’s restriction on flying over crowded areas also severely restricts drone delivery. 

In September 2016, PrecisionHawk received the first Part 107 waiver for BVLOS flights. PrecisionHawk has been working with the FAA to establish the safety case for BVLOS flight as part of the Pathfinder program, designed to help the FAA and NASA gather data on issues critical to drone innovation and regulation.  The result of their experimental work is that the FAA has now given them permission to include BVLOS flight as part of their commercial operations.

In October 2016, the FAA and NASA tested BVLOS drone flights at the Reno-Stead Airport in Reno, Nevada. The test was part of the research that NASA is doing in partnership with the FAA to develop a comprehensive unmanned air traffic control system, which will allow for integration of drones into the NAS. Watch the video atop this page for simulations of the BVLOS flights that were conducted by the FAA and NASA.

Drone delivery will be a main topic during our “Delivery Robots Knocking at Your Door” panel at the CES Robotics Conference that will explore how drones and autonomous mobile robots are transforming home delivery and emergency medical response. Ahti Heinla of Starship Technologies, Helen Greiner of CyPhy Works and Steve Cousins of Savioke will discuss developments, the need for continued testing and how to overcome regulatory and technical challenges.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe: scrowe@ehpub.com  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


Log in to leave a Comment

Article Topics

Robot Fun · Drones · News · Drone Delivery · All Topics

Editors’ Picks

Autonomous Snake-like Robot to Support Search-and-Rescue
Worcester Polytechnic Institute is creating autonomous snake-like robots that can navigate through...

Love Writing About Robotics and AI? Robotics Trends is Hiring!
Robotics Trends and sister site Robotics Business Review are growing and adding...

WiBotic PowerPad Wirelessly Charges Drones
WiBotic’s PowerPad wirelessly charges everything from large industrial drones to smaller...

Meet Jing Xiao: WPI’s New Director of Robotics
In January 2018, Jing Xiao will become the new director of the Robotics...